The heartbroken owner of a beloved city centre toy shop has blamed a ‘perfect storm’ of issues for her decision to close half of her premises.
Toycraft, on Watergate Street, has been trading for more than 50 years but owner Beverley Lucas claims the only option to secure any kind of future for the business was to reduce from the two neighbouring units it previously occupied to one.
Eagle-eyed shoppers will have noticed that the number 33 unit has been screened off from the street for a number of weeks and all the stock is now confined in number 35 Watergate Street.
Beverley, of Frodsham, said: “It’s probably been coming for the past three years, there has been a noticeable drop off in custom and this Christmas was very poor. In fact, we noticed a huge drop-off at Christmas and in our business, if you don’t have a good Christmas you have to make some changes.
“By March it still wasn’t picking up and that’s when I knew we really had to do something.”
Mother-of-two Beverley says with crippling business rates of £27,000 a year and rent in excess of £30,000, the business couldn’t sustain itself when the ‘perfect storm’ of the bus station closure; parking issues; a similar toy shop opening nearby and an increase in race days hit trading conditions.
“We are on the main drag between town and the racecourse and the number of race meetings has increased. People don’t come into town to shop on race weekends – I’m from Chester and I wouldn’t, so I don’t blame others who don’t,” said Beverley
She also believes the increase in cafes and bars, especially in Watergate Street and the surrounding area, has slowly changed the nature of the city centre.
“Families don’t come into town to shop anymore, they come to socialise in cafes or go to restaurants. I’m from Chester and I shop in Broughton or Sealand Road, they are easier to get to and park at.”
The Hollins Murray Group has now applied for planning permission to add a new shop front and entrance to the vacant unit. It’s not yet known who the new occupiers will be.
“It’s been a heartbreaking decision to make, it’s been very, very hard,” said Beverley “With things like Amazon and other websites it becomes harder to do it each year. I’ve got two young children, I can’t work every single day, I need to spend time with them too.’
She’s now trying to remain positive about Toycraft’s future and is appealing directly to customers to support independent businesses before they disappear from the high street.
“I’m not sure yet how the removal of Free after 3 parking will affect us but I know from looking at the figures that if we have a slow morning, it will pick up after 3pm, so I am worried about what is going to happen.
“I’ve spoken quite a bit to the traders at Chester Market and they are very, very worried too. It’s a real shame for them. I’m hoping things will improve and we have a very solid base of fantastic staff. I have one lady who has been there since she was 18 and she’s now in her late fifties, she’s so knowledgeable.
“We offer so much more than places like Debenhams. Don’t get me wrong, I go to Debenhams myself but what we have here is that we know our products inside and out. We can direct customers to what they want in seconds. We can always offer something different.”